Let’s Go Find the Women History Hides

Following the Crow Song

19060108_10211924738286748_4037967534773894514_nLast weekend Jackie French mesmerised and intrigued Booklinks members and the public by speaking about the women history hides to raise money for an upcoming Symposium on literature and writing centres.  This is my account of listening to her talk.

It was a shocking morning, hearing all about stabbings in London.  I could scarcely keep the tears from rolling down my face.  Oh what are we doing – humanity?  I wasn’t sure if I could leave the house, and if just a day of meditation and prayers, or a solitary walk in nature, might be the way to go.   That’s my sensitive poet’s heart; I am sure a lot of other’s people’s hearts were breaking too.

But I gave myself a stern talking to, Jackie French one of my all time favourite authors was in town, and was going to give a talk.  ‘Get on that bus June and go be with…

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How to Be a Poet and Why not to be a Poet

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The last time I was in this lecture theatre was for the launch of Lani Wendt Young’s latest book with the Pacific Community of Brisbane.  Today I am at a partnership event between the Queensland Poetry Festival and QUT, where they are hosting the poet,  Jeet Thayil.

It’s a free public lecture, but there are many poetry students in the audience, students of the immensely talented poet Sarah Holland-Bat (I am pictured on above with her.)

It’s an interesting room with its sloping ceilings and curving walls that give it a Pacific feel,  and the red plush fold out chairs add a feeling of majesty.  It has an arty feeling to it, and is certainly not a sterile feeling room.

Sarah introduces Jeet, an Indian poet, novelist, librettist and musician. He is best known as a poet and is the author of four collections, and as Sarah puts it is a ‘Renaissance Man’.  He was also short listed for the ‘Booker Prize.’  Currently he is the poet in residence.

Jeet then begins his presentation.  He shares with us a series of poems and let’s us know the book will be for sale later.  He gives us a pitch, ‘For the price of a good wine, or a Hungry Jacks meal, why not buy poetry that will last you longer and nourish you.’   $30 is the price of the collection of poems he is selling.

He reads us a poem devoid of the usual poetry tricks of rhyme and scansion, much more like prose.  ‘Declaration of Intent.’  It is a delicate piece, ‘ a love poem perhaps’ and leads to a hushed reflective room rather than applause, but that will arrive later.   He follows this up with a poem equally delicate, called ‘The Haunts’   Phrases float in the late afternoon lecture theatre and hang there’ as a tremble on the stair, a slit on the moonlight’  ‘a white shadow’ ‘ music as a hunger.’  I find myself thinking about white shadows.  So it looks like I am going to have to buy the book to read this poem again.

A change of mood is on the way though, and looking at the audience Jeet performs a series of poem that have a gentle humour and satirical tone,  they are mini – How to manuals.  the first is ‘How to be a Toad’, and is about how not to be beautiful!  This is followed by, ‘How to be a Leaf’, perhaps a feminist poem.  This is followed by ‘How to be Horse’ (with an obscure reference to Song by The Doors), ‘How to be a Crow’ and ‘How to be a Bandicoot.’  In India the bandicoots are unkillable.  Jeet is uncertain if we know what they are, but we do.  The final line of this poem makes me think perhaps these Bandicoots are symbols of Man -‘Adam’.   Accompanying each poem is a gentle tide of laughter which grows stronger with each piece.  But they are more than pieces for laughter and leave traces of ideas to follow up later.

For the next piece he tells us a story before performing it.  He tells us that it is in a set Urdhu verse form,  a Ghazal, that should never be written in English but urdhu and that if you read it in Northern India you will have shoes thrown at you.  He explains the form, but then proceeds to performs it in English, as this is the main language he has command over. ‘Malayalam’s Ghazal ‘

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Next Jeet tackles ‘the myth of the poet’ who burns life at both ends, who lives their life taking drugs, drinking too much, and having relationship dramas. He performs a poem of a love hate relationship with Baudelaire, someone who typified such a life style.

Jeet does not find this kind of poetic life a good model for a poet to have clarity in their writing,  later students will quiz him on the link between drugs and creativity and he will myth bust that quite firmly.

Now that he has shared with us a range of poems, with a range of tones, Jeet gives us 15 reasons not to write poetry.  He begins with ‘it will make no money!’  He develops a theme that he will come back to in question time.  That of the difference between the novelist and the poet. The life of a poet is not easy, as there are no big advances, you fly economy class to conferences, and have an obsession with daffodils, April, names of trees and birds, and everyone asks you what your day job is.  And finally he ends with you make no money.  Just so we won’t forget that.

And now it is a question time.  Jeet is asked about the connection between drugs and creativity.  He clearly refutes that one should take drugs to be creative, and later I find that he has long fought a heroin addiction.

I ask  about the transition from poetry writing to novel writing for die hard poets.  He feels that poets focus on the beauty of language but can often lack the structure of a page turning plot when they write novels, but still they can have a beauty of language intact that some readers will like.

This is another theme he develops because he speaks about how for him poets are full of joy, and more likely to dance on the tables and stay up late.  Novelists much work hard, and go to bed early to get up the next day and work hard to finish their books.  They treat it much more like a nine to five job.  They also have the chance of being translated, which doesn’t really happen for poets, as they are so hard to translate.

One student asks him what he would do if he had to write a poem for a piece of assessment, and he answers them with a piece of advice, about working a strict form like a ‘sestina.’  He explains that working in strict forms gives you the freedom to dance in a cage, but the cage is actually a place of freedom.

One student asks him about confidence, and he explains that all good writers will always have some doubt, and the day they stop doubting is probably the day they should stop writing.

Someone asks how did the Booker Prize nomination change your life, and he answers, ‘Well I was asked to if some poems of mine could be published in a book.’

There are more questions about the difference between poems written for live performance and intricate poems written to be read several times, from a page, so you can absorb them.

One student asks when should you give up writing, and realise you are just terrible at it. He doesn’t think that poets can or should give up writing, and can write poems whether or note they are published. The road to publication can be long and hard, but it is worth pursuing it, and continuing on with your journey.

He talks a bit about anthologies of poetry, and how difficult they are to edit, because poets are so particular about the lines, and other details.  It is not an experience he would like again, but they are important, in that they highlight the work.

Another person asks about how he began writing, and he tells us about spending many years as a journalist, and then returning home to his Indian Parents, (which by the way they love you doing) who provided him with the equivalent of an arts grant in rent free accommodation.

His definition of ‘what is India’ and who is an Indian writer is broad and disasporic.  He is interested in the Indians who live all over the globe.  This is something I can certainly relate to as a diasporic Papua New Guinean Australian, who like Jeet, knows of my mother’s tongue, but I do not speak it.  Later I will talk to him about having a poem of my own translated by a cousin in to my mother’s village language.  Here I am chatting away.

Jeet asks me about my own writing, and I mention, writing poetry for children and blogs and novels. etc. and the kickstarter.
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(This photograph was tweeted by Sarah Holland-Batt)

This lecture was tentatively titled ‘How to be a Leaf’ but it is perhaps more a guide to ‘How to be a Poet.’

So I write this in tribute to Jeet.

Be not a poet for money or fame
but because you are
to language’s beauty
as a regent skipper to a flame
yet don’t burn your life at both ends
but find clarity and freedom
inside the cage of tiny set forms and
———dance.

Don’t succumb to the cliché of
mad and bad poets in words or in life
and once you know all the rules
then you can trash all the rules.
Your craft is your canoe
although others will often think you
———–insane.

You cannot help but follow  and  fan the
————poetry flame.

(c) June Perkins

*regent skipper – a kind of moth

A Long Way From Misery

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Jacqui Halpin is an Australian children’s author whose stories have won prizes in writing competitions and been published in anthologies. She attributes her love of storytelling to her father, Jack Turner. ‘Listening to the amazing adventures Dad had growing up stirred my imagination and transported me back to his world,’ Jacqui says. Jacqui has co-written her father’s memoir, A LONG WAY FROM MISERY, which is a rollicking journey through the Australia of yesteryear with a true Aussie larrikin who grew up on a farm called Misery.

 Jacqui is passionate about preserving the social history of Australia for future generations and is currently writing a series of historical junior fiction novels inspired by her father’s adventures growing up.

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June: Can you give us a short synopsis of the book?

Jacqui: A Long Way from Misery takes you on a rollicking journey through the Australia of yesteryear with Jack Turner, the larrikin shearer, as he rescues his brother from being drowned by a kangaroo, rides a wild steer through the house, and leaps off a moving train. But these misadventures are nothing compared to his mother wielding a carving knife.

Born in 1926, Jack lived in a different time, but the way he sees it, they were better days. He loved his childhood growing up with his siblings and mates on a farm called Misery, and retells it with delight.

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June:  Tell us a bit more about your Dad.

Jacqui: Dad has entertained many friends, family, and acquaintances over his long life with the tales of his younger years. He is a quick-witted larrikin who loves to laugh and make others laugh.

He was born in Rylstone, New South Wales in 1926, and raised on a farm called Misery. He moved to Queensland in 1956 and lives in Brisbane with his wife of 53 years, his three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A former shearer with no education and a rough and ready upbringing, Jack’s ‘that’ll do me’ attitude has stayed with him throughout his long life and seen him through many a scrape. Hard-working, and with the ingenuity born from being raised in the bush, Jack has built and fixed everything from houses to toys.

He has had too many jobs to mention, met too many people to remember, and had too many adventures to record. He has lived an ordinary life full of extraordinary stories.

June: How long have you been working on Long Way from Misery?

Jacqui : It’s 12 years this month since my dad first gave me the audio tapes of the stories he could remember from his childhood and youth and I said I’d turn them into a book.

June: What was it like working with your Dad on writing the book?  Highlights? Challenges?  Any funny stories?

Jacqui:I don’t regret one minute that I’ve spent with Dad working on ‘the book’. I do regret that I has taken me this long, and now two of his brothers will never get to read it. If I knew back then what I know now it would have been published in half the time. One of the challenges was to put some sort of order to Dad’s stories.

He had a lot of stories (there wasn’t room for them all in the book) but he didn’t remember them in chronological order, if he had it would have made my job a hell of a lot easier.

We had so many laughs creating this book. I can’t remember what about exactly but just sitting round the kitchen table at Mum and Dad’s place laughing at what Dad was saying. Mum, too, has a great sense of humour. She has made countless cups of tea and lunches for me while we were working, and looked up the spelling of many obscure places that Dad shore at. And not with the aid of google, with a map and a magnifying glass.

One of the highlights while putting this book together was that Dad and I went to Rylstone and he guided me out to Misery Farm. It’s not called that now. Only the real old timers remember it as that. But dad found his way out there and I got to have a look around his old hut and take photos and get a better idea of how they lived. It’s falling down, which is a shame.

It was great to see Rylstone and walk with him on the streets that he walked as a child. And visit the pubs and the dance halls and the shearing sheds he had many an adventure in. I even got to meet some of his old mates too.

 June: What were your emotions on the launch day?  Where did you hold it and why?  What was the program?

Jacqui: Launch Day was a lot of work but well worth it. It was a celebration of all the hard work. A rejoicing for what we had accomplished. I could not have done it without the help of my family who were helping out all day.

My daughter, Emily, even had shirts made for the occasion. There was a great turn out of people. It was so uplifting to see so many friends and family there supporting us. Dad had a smile on his face all day.

It was held in Decker Park at Brighton because that’s where Dad and his family camped when they first moved up to Queensland. We had tea and damper and Hard Timer biscuits just like Dad’s mother made whenever visitors turned up at Misery. They were a hit. So many people asked for the recipe. I’ve now put the recipe on our blog.

Book Signing, Jacqui Halpin

 June: Why was it important for you to publish this book and set up your own press to do so?

Jacqui: I’d tried for several years to get a publisher, and although we had some interest, an agent read the first two chapters in 21/2 hours and asked for more, but no one would commit. Dad will be 90 this year. I couldn’t wait any longer. Besides, as Dad always says, ‘If you want something done, do it yourself.’ So that’s what we did.

 June: What role have writing buddies played in assisting you through the journey of writing, editing, and publication?

Jacqui: I have had a tremendous amount of help from my Write Link friends with this project. Their advice in self-publishing has been invaluable. Seeing the success of self-published authors like Karen Tyrrell, Charmaine Clancy and Nickolas and Alison Lochel, showed me that it was possible to do this self-publishing thing and do it well. I went through Book Cover Café and I could not have done it without them either. Anthony and his team were brilliant. I mean, you just have to look at the cover. I love the cover of our book! Anthony designed that.

A Long Way from Misery is available on Amazon or, for signed copies, through the authors at crownmountainpress@yahoo.com

For more information about Jacqui and her writing please visit her website:

jacquihalpin.com or follow her on Facebook www.facebook.com/jacquihalpinwriter

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Congratulations Jacqui, and thanks so much for your visit to the blog!

 

Meet Yvonne Mes – Author of Meet Sidney Nolan

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Yvonne Mes is a children’s author, illustrator and devourer of books. She writes short stories, picture books and junior novels. Her stories are published in School Magazine, on the Kids Book Review website and as part of anthologies.

Yvonne has a Bachelor of Children’s Services, a Certificate in Professional Children’s Writing, and a Certificate IV in Visual Arts and Crafts.

Yvonne coordinates Write Links, the Brisbane children’s writers and illustrators group, and is vice president of Book Links QLD (Inc.) She writes reviews for Buzz Words magazine and is a member of SCBWI, CBCA, Book Links and the ASA.

She has two decades experience working with children of all ages, abilities, many cultures and in various settings.

Yvonne grew up in Amsterdam but has made her home in Australia. Her three sons make sure she is never lost for inspiration. Her mission: sneak a quiet cup of coffee. Result: cold coffee and noise.

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1- June:  Yvonne can you tell me about the book you are about to have published and how that came about?

Yvonne: I’d love to. Meet Sidney Nolan is the latest in the non-fiction ‘Meet …’ picture book series about the extraordinary men and women who have shaped Australia’s history by Random House Australia.

Meet Sidney Nolan is also is the debut for illustrator Sandra Eterovic, who is a successful visual artist.

The book came about through hard work, being prepared and luck. I had immersed myself in writing picture books, studying picture books, and taking courses in writing for children for two years before I attended my first SCBWI conference in Sydney last year.

I had paid for one editorial session with an editor, and unlike other conferences, editors were assigned to authors after submitting manuscripts. So when I learned that I was matched with Random House, the editor had already received my picture book manuscript (Fearsome Friends, a fun story about a competitive scorpion and snake). I decided to be bold and take my non-fiction manuscript I had worked on for over six months, about another Australian artist.

During the meeting I asked Kimberley Bennet in person if she would consider this manuscript for the Meet... series. A few weeks later I received a rejection email saying that though she really liked the writing and the story the team didn’t think this artist was well-known enough for the series, however, in the same email she asked if I would be interested in writing a story on Sidney Nolan.

I immediately wondered why I hadn’t considered that earlier, face palm! I had fallen in love with his work after visiting a Sidney Nolan exhibition in Brisbane a few years earlier. I enjoyed it so much, I made repeat visits. I got started researching and writing Sidney Nolan straight away.

2- June: Can you describe the process of how you were involved once it was accepted by the publisher and what you liked most about that process?

Yvonne: First I had to decide on which part of Sidney Nolan’s life to focus. His Ned Kelly series are what made him famous all over the world and at the time played a part in shaping Australia’s identity. I was interested in what led up to him creating this iconic series.

The Random House Australia team is fantastic. Editors Kimberley Bennett and Catriona Merdie were amazing throughout the editorial process. Their communication and feedback on drafts was respectful and they would explain their reasons for suggestions on the revisions.

It was difficult at times to see certain sentences go. Sidney Nolan was such a fascinating character and there were many anecdotes and facets of his life which couldn’t be included in the story, either to keep the word count down, or because, well, let’s say that not everything was suitable for children.

When the story was in reasonable shape we worked on pagination and the timeline, and I able to look at the rough illustrations before Sandra moved on to the final illustrations. Seeing the illustrations was the most exhilarating part of the whole process.

The Random House team were determined to find the right person for the project, and it was lovely to see such a beautiful and painterly illustration style to tell Sidney’s story.

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Illustration from Meet Sidney Nolan – Sandra Eterovic

3- June: What sort of things have you been doing to prepare for the launch of your first children’s book?

Yvonne:  A bit of freaking out! As I am pretty new to this I have a lot to learn. However, I try to be proactive and attended the Launch Lab at the Queensland Writer’s Centre by Meg Vann. The lovely Megan Daley is involved in the launch so I know it will be great.

There will be a lunch time launch be at the Story Arts Festival in Ipswich on the 13th of September and I am organising a launch specifically for children with some interactive art activities to follow soon after. I have a few online interviews happening and I will be interviewing Sandra Eterovic. I am also planning a couple of readings at schools and libraries.

4- June: You are very involved in the writing community for children’s and young adult authors, can you explain why you think that involvement is so important for you?

Yvonne: Being in touch with other creative people who have the same dreams and facing the same obstacles is a great sanity preserver! It was like finding my tribe, the people who ‘get me’ and vice versa. We talk about writing and writing related topics for hours without having eyes glazing over or people falling asleep, which is what happens with family members and non-writing friends, I guess we really are a nerdy bunch!

I have met many lovely and supportive people who write and illustrate for children over the last couple of years in person and on-line. I have made two close friends here in Brisbane who I met through the writing community and sharing our ups and downs can be a real lifesaver.

I also think the shared knowledge of the writing community leads to learning and growth and ultimately better quality books for children. As in my writing, I think it is important to make connections with and between others.

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Yvonne with two writing buddies. Courtesy of Peter Allert – official photographer of the CYA conference

 

5- June: Where do you find readers for the drafts of your texts and how do they contribute to your process?

Yvonne: I ask for feedback on drafts from my amazing online picture book critique group, Penguin Posse, and my writing group, Write Links. Sometimes I think a story is fantastic and I get brought back to earth very gently, making the story so much stronger during the revision process.

Often I will let a story sit for weeks or months before looking at it again with fresh eyes, ready to take-in the critiques. At other times feedback gives me the confidence to start submitting a story.

The trick for me is to get at least six opinions in order to see the broad lines of what works or doesn’t, without losing the main heart and focus of the story I started with.

I hardly ever read something to my kids and have stopped asking my husband. Though he is extremely supportive, I just can’t deal with any constructive criticism from him until a story has gone through many drafts and revisions.

6- June:Can you tell me a bit more about the Sidney Nolan Book?

Yvonne: Sidney Nolan is one of Australia’s most admired and recognised visual artists. This is the story of how he developed his iconic Ned Kelly series of paintings, brought modernist art to Australia and took Australian art to an admiring international audience.

From Ned Kelly to Saint Mary MacKillop; Captain Cook to Banjo Paterson, the Meet … series of picture books tells the exciting stories of the men and women who have shaped Australia’s history.

June: All the best with the launch of the book Yvonne.

For more information see Yvonne’s Website

Yvonne is also an illustrator.

Yvonne Mes

Author Facebook Space

Yvonne’s Shop (one of her creations below)

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